Building Communities

Our Foundational Principles

We believe that people have a responsibility to pursue the public good, and within every community there is a small core of people that aspire to this challenge.   Our role is to empower these people to be effective in their advocacy for their community.

We also believe that even these community champions have other priorities.   They have families, jobs and other roles that are also important to them.   For this reason, we are dedicated to do everything we can to offer a service that is efficient and effective to help them serve their community.

Our passion is to help these people—these communities—envision and enact their desired future.  This passion leads us to build new processes, develop new explanatory theories and build a better practice to get this work done.
All of this has led us to make this bold statement: we believe we have invented community and economic development strategic planning.   This is no small claim.   We respect the people who have come before us, and the many people who take the time to offer professional services to help communities plan for their future.

There are four adjectives that describe the unique process we bring to you: comprehensive, objective, expeditious and action-oriented.   It is these descriptors that differentiate how we serve you.

Comprehensive.  Every day we observe what communities are doing to create jobs and improve their overall quality of life.   These activities always fall within our 25 strategies.  (If we find one that doesn't, it will become the 26th!)  As such, we begin with this menu of 25 strategic options for community advancement.

Objective.  We believe that logic, not emotion, should lead individuals and communities to determine their future.   At the same time, we design our process to also consider the desires of people and communities to pursue community and economic development activities.

Expeditious.  At the end of the day, very few people will read their strategic plan from cover-to-cover.   Recognizing this, we have designed a process that only asks and answers the relevant questions needed to develop the plan.   No extraneous data or research is pursued.   This makes our process very fast.

Action-oriented.  A plan that does not lead to action and positive change is worthless.   Every strategy and initiative selected by the community is assigned to one or more individuals. We  then  offer very specific action steps to initiate activity.

Participating in community and economic development activities can be very rewarding.   It is our privilege to be a part of this work with you.  Let's make our world better together.

Interested in a more complex depiction of these principles?  Our president, Brian Cole, created this visual as he considered what was "behind it all."

How Building Communities' Approach Measures Out

Quality of Life
Primary Research
Secondary Research
Endless Options
In the Box
Out of the Box

Jobs | Quality of Life

When it comes to communities, the top goals typically boil down to a better economy and improved quality of life. Building Communities employs an approach designed to effectively serve both goals.

By comparison, many approaches focus only on business recruitment or retention/expansion—two worthy goals but nowhere close to the entire suite of community possibilities.

Primary Research | Secondary Research

When performing research, most planning efforts consider a variety of data from many different places. All of these sources can be classified as either primary or secondary sources.

A primary source is an original study, document (including photographic or electronic), object or eyewitness account. In other words, this is the source where any given information first appeared.

A secondary source is a document or other record that is developed based on the  primary source. These sources often report, analyze, discuss or interpret primary sources.

Building Communities heavily relies on primary sources—the community leaders and interested citizens who care enough, not just to participate in the planning process, but to implement the resulting plan. By engaging citizens in developing their own understanding of their possibilities and implementation steps, people buy in to the solutions and actions needed for success.

By comparison, more generic strategic planning approaches rely on data and statistics that are often only of  passing interest to most readers.

Fast | Slow

Plan Week is 14 hours. In 14 hours, communities:

Ideally, within the a month following the initial planning phase (14 hours), all of the actions steps are written/assigned and the implementation phase is underway.

Building Communities is fast enough to generate direction and commitment but flexible enough to give the community the time it needs to  begin plan implementation.

By comparison, many community planning processes require six to 18 months of meetings. Such approaches risk losing participants and momentum.

Objective | Subjective

Building Communities believes that decisions must be led by logic. Communities should do what they do because they are much more likely to succeed based upon a very objective analysis of their attributes and comparative advantages. This is done through a very objective analysis of Key Success Factors and capacity considerations. Passion and emotion do figure in to our process (after all, it does take a strong will to successfully implement the plans) but direction and decisions are embedded in logic.

By comparison, the easy thing for an outside consulting firm to do is simply to ask, “What do you feel like doing for your community?”, writing it up, and calling it a plan. Unfortunately, without a logical assessment of possibilities and probabilities, poor decisions frequently result from such subjective approaches.

Consultant-driven | Community-driven

There are three primary roles in the development of a Building Communities strategic plan: Plan Facilitator (us), Plan Director (you) and Steering Committee (you). True to the title, we simply facilitate your plan. You direct and steer its development.

Our part is to bring and to present to you a process that works. The process is comprehensive, objective, expeditious and action-oriented. We only ask the questions (lots of them!). You provide the answers. We simply help you decide what your answers mean and then give you a strategic plan and an implementation workbook that helps ensure your work  will move forward.

By comparison, other approaches are highly impacted by what the consulting firm thinks are the “right” answers. While this can be good at times, ultimately the community leaders and citizens must embrace their plan for effectively action to ensue.

Proactive | Reactive

It is so easy for people and communities to be reactive to events and circumstances. The challenge is to proactively chart a course of action that shapes such events and circumstances, not simply to make minor adjustments to survive such forces.

Building Communities begins with 25 proactive strategy choices. Communities must be forward thinking in order to select and implement these strategies.

By comparison, many planning approaches are simply an organized means of reaction. Reacting better is one thing, strategic planning is definitely another.

Action-oriented | Data-oriented

Go online and search for strategic plans. You will likely find documents that are filled on the front-end with data and statistics. While such data are generally relevant to the plan, ask yourself, “Do I really need to know this in order to decide my community’s direction?” At Building Communities, we believe there are 88 questions relevant to determining a community’s strategic direction. We also believe that you—the community leaders, appointed staff and volunteers—have the necessary answers. We do not need to compile secondary research that creates largely extraneous data.

Every word in a Building Communities strategic plan relates to why specific strategies were selected and what you intend to do next to implement them.

By comparison, many plans are filled with almost-boilerplate data that simply update the numbers from the community that are then used to make projections.  The plan looks like a lot of work because it is big but is it effective? Our plans are all about action, not just data.

Boring | Fun

The last thing we do during Plan Week is to ask, “What did you think?” We have hundreds of reviews and the results are in: people like our approach. People like knowing that their knowledge counts. People like our “clickers” that not only generate fast responses, but neutralize the loudest voices. Everyone has impact on the decisions that are being made.

The final session is one of our favorites because we hear from you. After you have spent time holistically thinking about your community, we ask, “Why do you care?” Without exception, the response is fascinating and powerful, and allows us to capture the essence of your community. These are the last words spoken in the planning process and the first words written in your plan.

]By comparison, many planning processes are not so engaging and can even be drudgery. Some processes are designed to go on for months and even years. What fun is that? Don’t you want to get to the real fun work—building your community?

Incomplete | Comprehensive

We believe that our approach is comprehensive in three respects.

First, the 25 strategies encompass everything that communities should be considering to diversify their economy.

Second, the Quality-of-life Initiatives allow communities to consider additional issues, unique to their city/town/county/tribe/region, which are critical to advancing their community.

Third, our approach addresses what we consider to be the “whole body” of community advancement: the mind (Key Success Factor Analysis), heart (Voice of the Community Meeting) and muscle (Community Organizer Analysis).

By comparison, other approaches can be incomplete, causing communities to miss opportunities.

Rural | Urban

We have developed our planning approach by working in some of the most rural locations imaginable. At the same time, the approach works equally well in large cities. For cities over 100,000 in population, it is generally most effective to deploy our Plan Weeks at the neighborhood/urban renewal district level (or any other logical subset of the city).

By comparison, other approaches tend to be calibrated for either  rural or  urban situations. We believe that rural communities have the same opportunities that urban areas do (the 25 strategies) but the options within each of these strategies may be more limited. We also believe that districts within cities have unique opportunities that can only be captured by applying our approach targeted specifically at their “local” level.

Cookie-cutter | Endless Options

While our approach is highly formatted, the options that communities can choose are almost infinite. When you consider that a community can select any and all of the 25 strategies, this alone provides over 33 million possible sets of selected strategies (but who’s counting?!). When you add the Quality-of-life Initiatives to the mix, there are truly endless options from which  a community can choose.

By comparison, many strategic planning processes do not begin with a menu of options. Such processes, therefore, may be limited to the awareness/imagination by the community of viable strategies or the limited perspectives of the planning firm doing the work.

Feeling | Thinking

People make decisions using both logic and emotion. This is the way it should be.

Building Communities believes that decisions affecting the future of cities and counties should also be based upon logic and emotion. The process, however, needs to be structured where the options are first logically considered, and then the desire of the community weighs in on the top of the logical options (strategies and initiatives).

By comparison, other processes may not consider a blend of logic and emotion in the decision making process. Sometimes communities select a direction based only on the desires of the loudest voices. Other times, the process is so mechanized that people feel they have not had a chance to weigh in or that their voice was heard.

In the Box | Out of the Box

The “box” with respect to strategic planning is:

In every respect, we are out of this box! We do share the part of the box that yields a plan that helps the community focus on its top economic development and quality-of-life strategies.

By comparison, many firms use a process that cannot be distinguished from generic strategic planning processes that are used in business, education, health care and other sectors. The Building Communities approach is developed with only communities in mind.

Controllables | Uncontrollables

Stephen R. Covey, in his best seller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writes about people having a "Circle of Concern" and a "Circle of Control." Covey submits that effective people focus on their Circle of Control. That is, effective people do not waste time on concerns that they cannot control.

Building Communities applies this principle to communities. Our process does not focus at all on issues that communities cannot impact.

By comparison, many plans include content on issues or policies that are beyond the control of communities. While the context may be informative, it generally does not relate to the selection of strategies and the implementation of plans.

Business | Community

We purposefully define economic development quite broadly to include both business development (jobs and income-producing) and community development (quality-of-life producing) benefits. Not only do we believe that it is important to conduct a process that allows communities to realize all possible benefits, but we see tremendous advantages to bringing all interests to the same table to collectively define and realize the community’s future.

By comparison, we frequently see community development either segmented out of the process or not considered at all. Even the strongest business development advocates, however, eventually realize that it is the benefits of community development (downtowns, parks, community facilities, etc.) that frequently become the deciding factor for business development investment decisions.


©2017 Building Communities, Inc.